directions in french

Feeling Disoriented? How to Master Asking for and Giving Directions in French

Imagine finding yourself at the Seine, across the street from Notre Dame.

You’re wondering how in the world to find the Eiffel Tower.

You’ve mastered the basics—Bonjour and Je m’appelle (My name is)—but now you need to ask the next local who walks by how to quickly get to the famous landmark (and if it’s the prettiest route, even better!).

Asking for directions is one of the most important elements of basic French conversation, especially when you’re new to a French-speaking city.

Once you master the structures, nail down vocabulary and explore enough on your own, you may even end up giving directions yourself!

So here’s how to become the human version of French Google Maps (which, by the way, is a great resource for learning vocab and seeing how directions are written in French!).

Learn a foreign language with videos

What Are the Major French Direction Words and Phrases…and How Do I Use Them?

Whether you’re heading somewhere en bus (by bus), par train (by train), en voiture (by car) or à pied (by foot), it’s crucial to know how to use the correct words and phrases.

Otherwise, how will you find anything, or, even more importantly, locate l‘aéroport (the airport) or la gare (the train station) to begin your French journey?

Lock down these phrases before purchasing un billet (a ticket).

Tout droit

One of the most important direction phrases is tout droit, which means “straight ahead.” Used in a sentence, it’s often repeated a few times, sometimes with the tout repeated for emphasis:

“Oui, oui, juste tout tout droit.” (Yes, just straight ahead.)

How it’s used:

“Où sont les toilettes ?” (Where is the bathroom?)

“Il faut aller tout droit.” (Go straight ahead.)

À droite

“To the right” is rather self-explanatory, but what gets tricky here is the pronunciation. It’s imperative to note that droit in the direction phrase tout droit is pronounced /dʀwa/, while, due to the “e” at the end (indicating that you should pronounce all the letters in the word rather than cutting off the ending), droite should be pronounced /dʀwat/, with the “t” sound at the end. (For more information on the International Phonetic Alphabet and how to read it, visit their website).

As you first begin to use these direction words, pay special attention to this, as it’s the difference between going straight and turning right. Three straights don’t necessarily make a right!

How it’s used:

“Excusez-moi, je cherche la boulangerie.” (Excuse me, I’m looking for the bakery.)

“Si vous allez tout droit, puis à droite à la Rue Verte, elle est au coin de la rue.” (If you go straight ahead, then take a right at the Rue Verte, it’s at the corner.)

À gauche

There’s no similar confusion on pronunciation here. À gauche simply means “to the left.” Pronunciation is exactly like the word “gauche” in English—which means something completely different (lacking ease or grace).

How it’s used:

“Où est le pont ?” (Where is the bridge?)

“Prenez à gauche au parc.” (Take a left at the park.)

Nord, sud, ouest, est 

The cardinal directions above (north, south, west, east) are useful in the city, when you’re familiar with the way the streets run and you know that Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur are north of the Louvre and the Tuileries.

A lot of locals will use the cardinal directions to tell you where to go, because, naturally, they’re familiar with the city and how it’s laid out.

Of course, if you’re spending the day out hiking, these directions will be your only option—so either way, they’re necessary!

How they’re used:

“Est-ce qu’il y a un restaurant à côté ?” (Is there a restaurant close by?)

“Il y a un restaurant italien au sud de la gare.” (There’s an Italian restaurant south of the train station.)

Près de/à côté (de)

Just as important as knowing whether to turn right or left is identifying landmarks in relation to other landmarks. Près deor “close to,” along with à côté, is a phrase that will help you do just that.

Note that the preposition de contracts with le and les to make du and des respectively. This applies to the expressions above as well as to the other expressions in this post.

How it’s used:

(See the above example for à côté.)

“L’église est près du métro.” (The church is close to the metro.)

En face de

En face de (in front of) is another great direction word that will help you find your location while looking for landmarks and important places nearby.

How it’s used:

“La maison est en face de l’église.” (The house is in front of the church.)

Au coin de

This one’s a bit more specific, but you might hear this phrase, meaning “at the corner of,” in the city.

How it’s used:

“Il y a un supermarché au coin de ma rue.” (There’s a supermarket on my street corner.)

How Do I Get to Paris? Ways to Ask for Directions

Où est

The simplest and quickest way to ask where something is located in French is to start the sentence with Où est… or “Where is…”

Looking for the post office?

“Où est la poste ?” 

The nearest coffee shop?

“Où est le café ?” 

The library?

“Où est la bibliothèque ?”

It’s quick, easy to pronounce and gets straight to the point.

Est-ce que

This structure will be useful when you’re using basic question words like qui (who), quoi (what), quand/où (when),  (where) and comment (how), and really, when you’re asking most questions.

Est-ce que functions as the “is/are/does” in a sentence like “Where is the church?” or “How does one get to Paris?”

For example:

“Où est-ce que je peux trouver la gare ?” (Where can I find the train station?)

“Comment est-ce qu’on peut aller au centre ville ?” (How can one get to the center of the city?)

Inverted subject-verb

One way to ask a question in French is to reverse the subject and verb and connect them with a hyphen. We do something similar in English.

For example:

“Puis-je aller au magasin ?” (Can I go to the store?)

This will come in handy when asking for directions, especially when you’re wanting to avoid using the sometimes long-winded Est-ce que but still would like to be polite.

“Pouvez-vous me dire comment aller à Notre Dame ?” (Can you tell me how to get to Notre Dame?)

Appropriate Transition Words for Giving and Understanding Directions

Puis

Puisor “then,” is a simple transition word that is used when giving consecutive directions.

How it’s used: 

“Prenez à droite, puis allez tout droit.” (Go right, then go straight ahead.)

Après

Après, or “after,” has functionality similar to puis.

How it’s used: 

“Prenez à droite, et après, allez tout droit.” (Go right, and after that, go straight ahead.)

Enfin

If you’re receiving a set of directions that’s particularly long, you may hear enfinor “finally.”

How it’s used: 

“Prenez à droite, puis allez tout droit, et, enfin, prenez à gauche au parc.”

(Go right, then go straight ahead, and finally, take a left at the park.)

Now that you’ve mastered French directions, you’re free to hop on your avion (plane) or bateau (boat), and start your travel adventure!

Good luck—and bon voyage !

And One More Thing…

Of course, French is a lot more than asking for directions.

To cover all your other language bases, there’s always FluentU.

FluentU lets you learn French from real-world content like music videos, commercials, news broadcasts, cartoons and inspiring talks.

Since this video content is stuff that native French speakers actually watch on the regular, you’ll get the opportunity to learn real French—the way it’s spoken in modern life.

One quick look will give you an idea of the diverse content found on FluentU:

2014 10 09 20.42.25 9 Great Channels to Learn French on YouTube

Love the thought of learning French with native materials but afraid you won’t understand what’s being said? FluentU brings authentic French videos within reach of any learner. Interactive captions will guide you along the way, so you’ll never miss a word.

2014 10 09 20.44.00 9 Great Channels to Learn French on YouTube

Tap on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more. For example, if you tap on the word “suit,” then this is what appears on your screen:

2014 10 09 20.44.51 9 Great Channels to Learn French on YouTube

Don’t stop there, though. Use FluentU’s learn mode to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video with vocabulary lists, flashcards, quizzes and fun activities like “fill in the blank.”

2014 10 09 20.45.27 9 Great Channels to Learn French on YouTube

As you continue advancing in your French studies, FluentU keeps track of all the grammar and vocabulary that you’ve been learning. It uses your viewed videos and mastered language lessons to recommend more useful videos and give you a 100% personalized experience. 

Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or Google Play store.

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